By 2010 220 pages , Paperback , ISBN-13 9781846193910 , RRP $72.00., Published by Radcliffe publishing , Oxford , UK
Reviewed by Janice Lewis
Health Policy Management Programs, School of Public Health, Curtin University, Western Australia.
In the preface of the second edition of Effective People, the author Stephen Prosser indicates that he set out to show how a combination experience, policy and theory that could be applied in practice. Prosser draws on an extensive experience as a chief executive in the NHS in the UK, as a healthcare consultant again in the NHS and as a senior manager with British Steel. He is currently a professor in the University Business School. His reflections are clearly placed within the public sector, most specifically the NHS. Nevertheless the text has a clear resonance for Australia. Prosser's fundamental question is why is it that so many organisations and their leaders get so many things wrong. A brief perusal of the daily newspaper from any state in Australia will see reflections on the same question.
The book, not overly long at 200 odd pages, is structured around two sections, one related to the disciplines of management and the other the attitude of managers. Although all the chapters are not structured in the same manner, there is a rich use of metaphors, anecdotes, quotes and case studies throughout the book to illustrate issues discussed. The book is well referenced, but the references are used more to illustrate what takes place in practice rather than the discussion emerging from the theory. The practice driven context of the book is constant throughout. Any theoretical discussion is kept brief, something the book points out. For example, when discussing Greenleaf's servant leader the description of the approach is “substantially abbreviated”. Similarly Senge's five dimensions of the learning organisation are “abbreviated to the briefest possible format”. This approach is not intended to devalue the contribution of these important writers. Very much the contrary – Prosser is patently a fan of both Greenleaf and Senge. It does however place the discussion clearly in context without confusing the issue with distracting debates about theoretical position. This is not the book for those pursuing such dialogue.
Each chapter ends with a list of key actions. These actions are aimed directly at the individual manager who is concerned with their effectiveness. The advice is practical and achievable. Prosser's points of view are most clearly exemplified by his practical points for organisational change where he warns the reader not to become over reliant on a single theoretical approach. He also warns of what he calls the Heathrow School of Management, books characteristically bought in airports that promise management success by following apparently simple prescriptive steps.
The book contains two chapters which offer much food for thought. Chapter 5 considers human resource management. Prosser makes a clear case for the centrality of the human resource function to organisational performance. He laments that there is not a wider recognition of how the HR function affects the bottom line performance of an organisation or an understanding of the role by non-specialist managers. This is a position that is frequently overlooked in other management books. Chapter 6, Being Patient Focused moves even further away from what is generally found in health service management books. Drawing on an extended period of illness and experience as a patient in a number of NHS hospitals, Prosser offers a perspective of the health service that is too frequently not a major concern for the health service manager. He makes the point that much of management work, producing strategies policies plans and so on has only a passing relevance to the immediate and direct needs of the patient – a salutary message for the health service manager contemplating their purpose.
The book is a deceptively easy read. The writing style is conversational. Chapters are clearly set out with headed sections. There is a judicious (as opposed overwhelming) use of dot points and numbered lists. Anecdotes and other quotes keep reader interest. There is some use of figures and illustrations but they do add to the text. The reference lists at the ends of each chapter are relevant and up-to-date.
The message of the book however is less easy. The book offers much to the practising manager. In drawing together a number of perspectives on the management role, the book in many ways asks more questions than it answers. It is not nevertheless intended to be a ‘cookbook’ for practice but rather a resource to be dipped into, reflected upon and returned to. It may not answer all questions but will offer much but food for thought for the thinking manager in any area of health service delivery.